Both candidates talk as if there are only two lessons to learn from the Iraq war: that it was a mistake to invade and that Phase IV, occupation and stabilization, was botched—thus a needless war was also needlessly costly. In hindsight, the case for invading Iraq is not as strong as was thought at the time, and mistakes did contribute to making the war more costly than it should have been. But the candidates are ignoring two other, equally important lessons from Iraq: (i) it was a mistake to oppose the surge, which rescued Iraq from a trajectory toward failure and put it on a trajectory toward success; and (ii) it was a mistake to botch negotiations for a stay-behind force and then to abandon Iraq entirely, which ultimately dragged Iraq back onto a trajectory toward failure. Moreover, rather than demonstrating the futility of U.S. engagement in the region, the Iraq war and its aftermath offers a host of lessons about how and how not to engage the region.
As President Obama approaches his final months in office, many wonder if deepening global disorder will lead to a change of foreign and defense policy, much as at the end of the Carter administration. While the Obama administration has taken some steps to counter growing global threats, the president’s interview in the Goldberg Atlantic article makes clear that he has not changed his views on America’s role in the world. This analysis on the one-year anniversary of the 2015 NSS confirms the view that the president is unlikely to change course during his remaining months in office.